Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Effort of the Shepherd.

Kylemore in Ireland

I wonder to whom David was speaking when he speaks about the Shepherd Lord in the third person. When David says ‘He makes me lie down’ is reads like it caused the Shepherd some effort as the sheep resisted. This is almost a confession of a hyperactive personality needing the Lord to intervene. There would be some reading this or the psalm that would nod in understanding of what the Lord did or might have to do. Why is this? Because sheep seem to have a silly, stubborn, wandering nature which is applicable to men and women in the Lord’s sheepfold.

What David alluded to we don’t really know. However, we can get some ideas from the life of the apostle Paul. He was a dynamo for preaching the Gospel, writing letters, debating, getting assaulted, ship wrecked and doing a lot of walking and talking. When you read the book of Acts in the New Testament Paul spent time in prisons. Would it be fair to say the Lord, his Shepherd, was making him lie down?

How then could we honestly equate a prison cell or home detention as ‘green pasture?’ One thing would be sure, there wouldn’t be much running or turbulent water in the place. The psalmist in this verse is contrasting the everyday experience of a sheep in Israel. The grass was sparse and needed constant searching if it was to have a good meal. The shepherd would know when it was time to give the sheep in his care a bit of a treat. He would take them to such a spot indicated by the writer. Would it be similar to an Australian billabong? That’s where fresh water ‘sits’ and is easy to access. For Paul in prison his cell was a place of stillness. Would he take heart from a psalm which talks about being still and knowing God? Psalm 46:10.

Being in such green pastures and beside still waters sounds idyllic. For a man or woman with a sense of mission, with restless energy to accomplish a calling, it can wear thin after a while. Paul, I think, would have gone mad in jail if he couldn’t share his faith. Prayer, devotion and reading parchments and books is well and good. But, they must have outlets! As you read the accounts in Acts and his letters you realise there were numerous opportunities for this man, beside the ‘still waters.’ In Caesarea the Governor dropped by seemingly regular. Paul was presented before King Agrippa to state his case. In Rome, under house arrest, he somehow met and led to the Lord a runaway slave called Onesimus. (Read the letter to Philemon). Paul was a driven man refreshed by God’s turning a place of ignominy and shame into green pastures. Through him, the Lord was able to share with otherwise untouchables the ‘Living Water’ of the Holy Spirit. In that place he also was able to meet and discuss with the Jewish leaders of Rome. (Acts 28) Later under guard and chained to Roman soldiers Paul had a captive audience. Some of these battle hardened and cruel men became Christians. Philippians 1:12-14 reveals that fact.

Reading Paul’s journey’s we can see that his Shepherd led him along many a hard track. It is also apparent the apostle wasn’t always sure just where the Lord was taking him. Paul had his way blocked here, intersected there and on another occasion had a dream which led him to Philippi. How true that is of us. We might have some ideas as to where the Lord intends us to be but the road isn’t always direct. The call of the Lord is to “Follow me.” That includes taking up a personal cross of obedience and trust. It often has a high price attached to personal ambition and expectations. However, as in the psalm and as displayed in Paul’s life, the Lord takes His followers into green pasture (some surprisingly unattractive at the first glance). Then He causes us to drink the still, the cool and clear water of His grace. Remember what the Lord said to His disciples? They had to draw aside and rest awhile before beginning any new work.

What is the purpose of all this? To restore the disciples life. It may include restoring a believer’s faith, health, priority or testimony. Being restored he can be led again to walk in the right paths with renewed enthusiasm.

To be continued.

©Ray Hawkins February 2016.

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